How Far Can Ryan Fitzpatrick Lead the Houston Texans in 2014?

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How Far Can Ryan Fitzpatrick Lead the Houston Texans in 2014?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

First it was reportedly Blake Bortles, then Johnny Manziel, but ultimately the Houston Texans settled on the University of Pittsburgh's Tom Savage as their developmental quarterback of the future. 

Savage, the Texans' fourth-round pick, might be the quarterback prospect new head coach Bill O'Brien wants to develop over the next few years, but for the here and now, all signs point to Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Texans starting quarterback when the season begins. 

The Texans will be the fifth NFL team for Fitzpatrick as he heads into his 10th professional season. 

Fitzpatrick, every bit the journeyman, has seen limited success in small doses throughout his nine seasons. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick's Career Numbers
2005 St. Louis Rams 76 135 56.3 777 4 8
2006 St. Louis Rams 0 0 0 0 0 0
2008 Cincinnati Bengals 221 372 59.4 1,905 8 9
2009 Buffalo Bills 127 227 55.9 1,422 9 10
2010 Buffalo Bills 255 441 57.8 3,000 23 15
2011 Buffalo Bills 353 569 62 3,832 24 23
2012 Buffalo Bills 306 505 60.6 3,400 24 16
2013 Tennessee Titans 217 350 62 2,454 14 12
TOTAL 1,555 2,599 59.8 16,790 106 93

In all of that time, there has not been a single appearance in the playoffs for Fitzpatrick. 

It's that fact that may be weighing on Texans standout receiver Andre Johnson, not known for anything but being a perfect citizen and teammate.

But the frustrations of a 2-14 season a year ago combined with an offseason that obviously hasn't lived up to his expectations, has forced the All-Pro to sit out OTAs and possibly an upcoming mandatory mini-camp, via Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle

"Nobody’s been here as long as I have. You just kind of look at things; I’ve been thinking about things this offseason,” Johnson said. “And I just kind of wonder sometimes, ‘Is this still the place for me?’ ”

“I just look at my career. … I’ve only been to the playoffs twice. I think we’ve only had three winning seasons,” said Johnson. “I don’t think any player wants to experience that. I think over time it can become very frustrating. And this offseason has been very frustrating for me; beginning of the offseason, I should say. That’s just kind of where I’m at right now.”

We'll never know if the draft worked out exactly the way the Texans had planned, maybe they were hoping for a different scenario that netted them one of the top available quarterback prospects. 

In any case, Savage has the physical talent you're looking for in a prospect but is seen as a huge project and will need time before he's ready to play. 

That puts Fitzpatrick front and center to be the one delivering passes to the unhappy 32-year-old Johnson, who has three years left on his current contract. 

One reason Fitzpatrick might not give Johnson confidence as the one who will lead the Texans back to the playoffs, besides having never done that for a team he's quarterbacked, is his lack of deep-ball ability. 

Fitzpatrick's deep-ball numbers since 2008 (20+ yards)
Deep Left 22 90 24% 761 4 6
Deep Middle 21 65 32% 665 5 9
Deep Right 28 90 31% 1,052 10 7
Total 71 245 29% 2,478 19 22

Pro Football Focus

Since 2008, Fitzpatrick has completed just 29 percent of passes that traveled at least 20 yards down the field in the air. 

For a big play receiver these numbers can't be comforting. 

There is a bit of good news for the Texans heading into 2014.

Besides their defensive line, they have the third-easiest schedule based on last year's winning percentages. 

Is it enough to help a Fitzpatrick-led team get to the playoffs for the first time in his career?

That remains to be seen.

Although fortune has been good for teams with the No. 1 pick recently. Both the 2012 Indianapolis Colts and the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs made the playoffs after having the No. 1 overall pick in the previous draft.

Besides the numbers, what is it about Fitzpatrick's game that finds him consistently average year after year?

Let's take a look at the tape.

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

We've already looked at the deep-ball accuracy numbers for Fitzpatrick, which aren't good. But as long he's hitting his receivers with accurate, leading passes on shorter routes then chunks of yards can still be had.

In this game against the Indianapolis Colts, Fitzpatrick shows what below-average NFL quarterbacks do with opportunities for big gains.

The Colts look to be in a Cover 2 Zone defense with the cornerback at the top of the screen in press-man coverage.  

The slot receiver, which is Kendall Wright in this case, simply runs an out-route (yellow).

It'd be up to the outside linebacker to provide coverage outside of the numbers as the cornerback in press coverage is ran out of the area. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

The decision ultimately comes down to the safety (green circle) either hopping the underneath route (Wright) or providing over-the-top protection on the deep route down the sideline. 

Fitzpatrick can read the cornerback with his back turned toward the line of scrimmage and know the out-route (Wright) should be wide open. When it's Wright vs. a linebacker out in space, the smart money is on Wright. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

The safety gets depth and covers the deep throw as Fitzpatrick makes the correct read and delivers the ball to the outside to Wright. 

Once Wright turns up the field with the ball he's basically got one blocker and two defenders between him and a big gain, possible touchdown. He simply has to make the safety miss out in space and trust his receiver can take care of one block on the cornerback. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

But the throw is low and behind Wright, who falls down while reaching back and trying to catch the ball. At the time Wright fell down there were 15 yards between him and the safety (green), plenty of space for him to make a move. 

Obviously it's just one throw over the course of one game, but this is a basic throw and catch for an NFL quarterback and receiver. Above-average quarterbacks rarely miss on these kinds of throws.

For the Texans to have any chance of getting to the playoffs next season, Fitzpatrick needs to make these kinds of plays extremely rare. 

After looking at the deep-ball numbers and illustrating a pass which left a lot of yards on the field, let's take a look at how Fitzpatrick has found his way onto the NFL field over his nine seasons. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

In this play for the Titans offense last season against the Arizona Cardinals, running back Chris Johnson basically runs a wheel route off a busted play.

Fitzpatrick's pocket-presence on this play can be described as a lot of different things but calm, but after scrambling back and forth he's able to find Johnson up the sideline for the touchdown.

Having more athleticism than he's often given credit for, Fitzpatrick is able to extend the play and deliver an accurate (impressively, given his footwork) pass up the left sideline to Johnson. 

In conclusion, the Texans had a great draft in terms of overall talent added to the roster, but the fact remains they did nothing to keep Fitzpatrick from sitting atop the quarterback mountain in Houston, and that's ultimately going to hurt this team in 2014. 

The Texans defense has a chance to be pretty special with Clowney and Watt along the defensive line and good news for football fans is we'll get to see plenty of them all season long.

But in regards to the Texans' playoff chances in 2014, Fitzpatrick hasn't proven to be able to lead a team that far and there's no reason to think he can do it next season, either. 

Texans fans should appreciate Fitzpatrick, though, as he's going to be a huge part in helping both Case Keenum and Savage develop as players, guiding one of them to ultimately replace him as the starter.

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